I will NEVER FORGET that evening in 1975 when a group of librarians gathered to hear Major R. Owens, an African American librarian from Brooklyn, as he began his first campaign for public office. We all came together at the loft where I lived on New York’s Upper West Side. I was devastated when I heard of his death in late October.
“We have to weed the collection!” Every librarian will tell you that, but a great many library users, including many of those unpredictable “Friends of the Library,” along with a lot of other citizens, simply don’t understand why it is necessary to throw away “good books.” As a result, careless weeding of library collections has been the source of tremendous misunderstanding, disruption, bad publicity, and, all-too-frequently, the departure of library directors.
I return once or twice a year to the first statement of our mission in Upon the Objects to be Attained by the Establishment of a Public Library, the 1852 Report of the Trustees of the Public Library of the City of Boston. Possibly the most important document in the history of the free public library in the United States, the report spells out the justifications for the establishment of such a library in that city.
At first, I was offended when Gretchen Whitney recently posted to the JESSE list, which she moderates, a simplistic estimation of the differences between the teaching of part-time faculty and adjuncts and that of tenured and full-time faculty in LIS programs. I took her comments personally, I suppose, because I have been a part-time and adjunct faculty member at more than a half dozen LIS programs for more than 50 years.
I was sad and angry when Mike Kelley’s editorial triggered a host of attacks on the credential with which I began my career. I already worked at the Reading Public Library, MA, when I enrolled in the MLS program at the School of Library Science at Simmons College. It was just before I turned 30, more than five decades ago. The studies for the MLS at Simmons made me a far better practicing librarian than I expected they would. Most important, they converted me from an amateur librarian to a professional.
That titular truism is even more accurate during hard times; the muzzling and corrupting impact of the almighty dollar on the flow of information is magnified in a weak economy. Those with an agenda use their money to influence our politics, our ideology, and our lifestyles and social interactions. We see this sway not only in election campaigns but in the media as they provide our entertainment and report our news. Even the once sacrosanct public media are afflicted with influences that tend to quiet their critique and discussion if it might affect their donors, funding agencies, trustees, and advertisers.
I’ve come to believe that translations from print to sound enhance access to a work. For library users and librarians, the movement of old works into new media presents new opportunities for bringing easy access to entertainment and education to people old and young. This is another tool to improve and expand library service.
Despite my frustrations with The American Library Association (ALA) Council, I voted in its election. The ALA Council’s email list (ALACOUN) has been endlessly repetitious for weeks. It was spurred by an array of fatuous messages from a chapter councilor fixated on cutting the number of at-large councilors in that august body.
Students get to spring and each new semester first with their youth, enthusiasm, commitment to our profession, their innovation and creativity. For me that means they have an edge over we older librarians. We are a bit burned out after our endless struggles to serve through the winters of librarianship, the chronic budget and other shortages that have always made librarianship more difficult and, alas, eroded our professional morale.
The students, meanwhile, believe anew in our core values and carry on our profession’s enthusiastic desire and willingness to serve. They enthusiastically observe and share our faith in the redemptive power of good libraries in a community.
Ongoing efforts by trade and scholarly publishers to demand higher prices for their digitized content and the growing, if flawed, perception that new technologies have made the information function of libraries obsolete have put librarians on the defensive. New devices and methods to deliver the entertainment and information people want have rekindled ancient debates about the mission of the library.